Suffragettes, Wearable Art, and Flickr

Since joining the Flickr Commons, several users have wowed us with their insightful comments and tags on our photos.  After highlighting the work of TVL1970 a few months ago, we’ve interviewed another avid Flickr contributor.  Penny Richards of Redondo Beach, CA, better known to Flickr users as Pennylrichardsca, has contributed tags, comments, and even shared with us her wearable art that uses National Archives photos.  Thanks to Penny and all other citizen archivists on Flickr; we appreciate what you do for the National Archives!

pennylrichardsca on FlickrWhy do you like Flickr? How long have you been using it?


I think I first joined Flickr in 2007 to have a place to keep images for blogging, or for participating in contests.  But I like a lot about Flickr–I like the very niche communities that form, around gourmet food trucks in LA, for example, or hyperbolic crochet, or WPA murals (to name three that I’ve joined).  I like seeing which photos get the most attention:  my most popular photograph is a picture of my daughter wearing a homemade snail costume.  Every October, it gets thousands of views.  I like the Galleries feature, and obviously I love Flickr Commons.

What brought you to the National Archives’ photostream?

I’ve been active in the Flickr Commons community since that started– tagging and commenting in the Library of Congress uploads back when they first started.  I’m mostly interested in women’s history and American history, so the US National Archives would be an obvious fit for me.  Other regulars like to tag vehicles, or sports images, or architecture.  It’s good that everyone can find something to contribute in the Commons.

What motivates you to tag our photos so thoroughly or to provide comments with background information?

Several motivations, I guess.  Because I use the images to make purses and collages and to prompt blog posts, I tag for my own needs–I want to be able to find a woman pilot wearing goggles, or a bearded man standing, so that’s the kind of words I tag.  I also tag from a sense of wanting to contribute something towards improved resources in women’s history:  so I like to track down first names for women who would otherwise be Mrs. John Smith, and to link to any other materials about them online, so there are more breadcrumbs for the next person to follow.

What is your favorite NARA photo on Flickr?

Not sure I could choose just one!  I’ve blogged about the images of coalminer Jack Smith in the Documerica Project, at the Disability Studies Temple U. blog.

Jack and Della Mae Smith in Front of the Beer Joint He Operates in Rhodell, West Virginia, near Beckley 06/1974
And I singled out the Mathew Brady image of Mrs. Chapin at the indicommons blog, because it’s so far from the prim and somber image people might imagine as a “Civil War portrait.”

Mrs. Chapin

I used the Mathew Brady portrait of Tennessee Claflin on a purse, again because the image is different from what one imagines a feminist stockbroker in the 1870s might look like (if one imagines such a person existed at all).

Tennie Claflin Purse

Why do you think sharing historic photos on a social media site, like Flickr, is important?

It’s an amazing resource for folks who use images, and for users to give back stories, links, tags, comments, and context.  People like to learn, to tell stories, and to help–that’s the basis of any good crowdsourcing project.

Where do you see social tagging moving toward in the future (what impact will it have for cultural institutions)?

I’ve seen some very cool projects that build on the tags on Flickr. For example, the Tar Heel Reader project is set up to use tagged Flickr images to make accessible e-books for new readers of all ages (because a teen or thirty-year-old just learning to read will generally be more engaged by age-appropriate subject matter).   I made one Tar Heel Reader book about Ellis Island, using all Commons images, and another about women working during World War II.

Are you a photographer yourself? What do you enjoy photographing?

Penny Richards, Citizen Archivist on Flickr
Penny Richards, Citizen Archivist on Flickr

Oh no–I have a very basic point-and-shoot, and I mostly take pictures of my art projects, of clothes and crocheting and food, or around the neighborhood, or on family vacations.

I’m a research scholar with UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women, and president of the Disability History Association, so I also have plenty of academic reading, writing, and editing to keep me busy.  But I also crochet, and bake, and teach art, and I’m a Girl Scout leader.  I thrift-shop a lot, and love my two book groups.  I have about nine blogs in progress, but that’s not as much as it seems:  most are for community groups, or group blogs; just a few are for my own personal projects.

What inspires you to create wearable art out of historic photographs?

I like the way a historical purse, t-shirt or pin can spur conversations.  If there are suffragettes on my purse, I know that at least once a week, I’m going to be talking about women’s rights and protest movements with a complete stranger; and sometimes they will mention their great-grandmother who was a suffragette, or their cousin who works on women’s rights in another country, and it’s a good exchange.  And I learn a lot just making them, too, of course.  I generally choose not-too-famous people to feature, in part so I can get to know and share a new story.

Where did you learn how to create these pieces of wearable art?

For the purses and shoes, it’s all been trial-and-error!  It’s mostly the same materials I’d use for any collage/mixed media project, but applied to a surface that needs to be flexible in everyday use, and washable in some cases.  It’s an interesting challenge, and every project is a little different.  For stenciling and some paint techniques, I turn to YouTube, or to the appropriate Flickr group (there’s a whole Flickr group for freezer-paper stencils, for example).  Magazines like Altered Couture and Belle Armoire are also great resources.

6 thoughts on “Suffragettes, Wearable Art, and Flickr

  1. Awesome interview! I’ve always been impressed by your historically inspired wearable art on Flickr, but reading about all your interests and civic involvement is really inspiring. I’m a little jealous of the girls in your troop!

  2. Penny, you are such a star around the Commons! I enjoyed getting to know you a bit better in this interview.

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